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College Football's 'Coaching Carousel' In Full Effect


The Bowl season is officially underway and that's got NPR's Mike Pesca thinking about all of the drama; the strategy, the last minute plays. And that's not even on the field.

Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Yes, the last minute plays, the Hail Marys, all that, yep.

MARTIN: OK. So, I don't exactly follow personnel decisions in college football very closely - I know that comes as a surprise - but I have noticed that there have been several high-profile departures recently. What's going on?

PESCA: Yeah, it's called a coaching carousel, and I think that's apt. Because what happens is you'll see one decision. So, for instance, the University of Tennessee fires their coach. That means there is an opening. Guess what? Cincinnati's Butch Jones leaves Cincinnati and goes to Tennessee. Guess what? Tommy Tuberville leaves Texas Tech and goes to Cincinnati. So, on down the line, there's a disappointed fan base, then they are happy that they get their coach, and the next fan base is disappointed, saying how can this happen, and they're happy that they get their coach. And everyone walks out of contracts and there seems to be no accountability by anyone.

MARTIN: So, this is like a problem?

PESCA: Yeah. It's definitely a problem. You don't see this sort of turnover in the NFL. You don't see this sort of turnover in kind of any other profession where there are contracts that are enforced. Now, I'll take you in the middle of the Sturm and Drang in Cincinnati. So, what was going on then was they had just lost their coach, Butch Jones, and they hadn't yet hired Tommy Tuberville. So, here was the question that was asked of Cincinnati's athletic director, Whit Babcock.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Do contracts mean anything in college sports anymore?

PESCA: Good point to kind of encapsulating the mood of the fan base. Here's part of Babcock's answer.

WHIT BABCOCK: You know, I think contracts mean something or we wouldn't have them.

PESCA: Yeah, but not much. And this is the problem. And I talked to Rick Karcher, who's a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, and he's written about the coaching carousel. And he points out that the schools themselves simply do not enforce their contracts. They have something called liquidated damages clauses, which means a buyout. So, if a coach wants to leave to another school, they might get money from that coach or money from the school he's going to. But they never force the coach to stick to his contract and just coach the team. The thinking is if we have a coach who doesn't want to be here, he's not going to do a good job. Although, this thinking doesn't apply to, like, every other walk of life where you can't just leave and walk out of your contract. They make you do your job.

MARTIN: So, what can you do about it?

PESCA: Well, what you can do, first of all, is enforce contracts. I mean, right now we have this specter of there's some colleges that are actually paying three coaches. Here's how it works: they fire one coach, so they have to pay him his money that he negotiates.

MARTIN: The remainder of the contract.

PESCA: Right. Then they hire a new coach. New coach needs money. And maybe the new coach had a contract with his old school, and the school winds up giving him money on a loan where they forgive the interest. So, yeah, there are a lot of schools paying three coaches.

MARTIN: That is crazy.

PESCA: It is kind of ridiculous. And...

MARTIN: And these people make a lot of money, we should point out.

PESCA: Yeah. We're talking, you know, millions of dollars in the most extreme or lucky and fortunate and deserved cases. But what Karcher says is maybe there should be an athletic director who just stands up and says I will be enforcing a contract. Now, it's seen as the first athletic director to do that will never get a coach to come work for him again. Who's going to want to coach at a school where they don't let you leave when you get a better job? But I suspect that if an athletic director were to do that, the fans of the school would like it, the students of the schools would like it, and maybe you would attract the kind of coach who believes in character, who believes in sticking to his word, who believes in commitment, you know, the sort of things they all preach to their players every Saturday.

MARTIN: Integrity in college football - that's what Pesca is calling for. OK. So...

PESCA: Yeah, that's what I'm howling into the wind about, yeah.

MARTIN: Do you have a curveball this week?

PESCA: I do. It's a quote, a quote from Kirk Cousins. He's the backup quarterback on the Redskins. He was inserted into their game last week and delivered mightily in a few plays. And he said something that really get at the tension of the quarterback position the way I never thought of. He says it's a balance between being a robot and being an artist. On the touchdown to Garcon, that was being an artist. You don't really know how it's going to look. On the two-point conversion, you're a robot. You take the play and do what's called. Excellent point.

MARTIN: NPR's Mike Pesca - never a robot, always an artist. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.


MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.